Friends and members of Modesto's flying community have identified longtime valley business owner Chuck Swanson, 59, of Modesto as the pilot killed Monday morning in a plane crash west of Angels Camp.
Authorities have not released or confirmed the pilot's identity.
The crash occurred just after 9 a.m., near Pool Station Road. Swanson flew the Cessna 172 fixed-wing plane registered to Michael Monzingo of Oakdale.
One witness reported that the plane made high-banked turns, as if performing stunts, for several minutes before the crash.
But friends and fellow pilots believe something else happened.
"Chuck would have never been doing aerobatics, and certainly not in a friend's plane," said Dennis Cummins of Modesto, a pilot who is involved in the Commemorative Air Force group based at the Modesto Airport.
"A circle is not an aerobatic maneuver, "Cummins added. "(The crash) was in the morning. He must have been going somewhere. He was not just poking holes in the sky."
Cummins said Swanson recently sold his plane and had been using Monzingo's frequently.
"He was in Oregon last week for his daughter's wedding," Cummins said. "He showed the wedding photos at the Modesto Pilots Association dinner Saturday night."
Friend and crop-duster Dave Stein said Swanson was a skilled pilot who had a tailwheel endorsement, meaning he could fly and land the trickier Piper Cub planes that taxi using the rear wheel as well as planes such as the Cessna, which steers with the wheel in the front of the plane.
"I've flown with him several times," Stein said. "He was calm, cool and collected. He'd flown in Class B (high-traffic) airspace, over the radio just as he should have. He was professional enough and very good at it. He was as safe as you could ever be."
Cummins and Stein said Swanson was popular among other pilots in Modesto.
"He was friendly with everybody," Cummins said. "He had no downsides, not like the rest of us who are moody at times. He was really helpful to the Commemorative Air Force, although I don't think he ever joined. He helped us and gave us materials for a plane we restored."
"He was just good-hearted," Stein added. "He was always in a great mood, always fun to be around."
Swanson was the owner of Design Metals, which manufactures food processing equipment in Ceres. His company designed and built items from food elevators to huge blenders, counting See's Candies and other confectioners along with Del Monte, E.&J. Gallo Winery and Franzia Winery among his customers.
Longtime family acquaintance Susan Heiny of Escalon said Swanson was a generous person who donated to numerous causes, including autism.
Heiny was among the first people on the scene to assist pilot Bill Cavanagh, who survived a helicopter crash in an orchard near Escalon in February.
Her ex-husband, Dennis Heiny, has been with Swanson's Design Metals for about 20 years.
Swanson became the third pilot from Modesto to die in a crash in four years.
Former Modesto Irrigation District director and local businessman Chuck Billington and longtime flight instructor Dave Mesenhimer died in a crash near Oakdale in February 2006.
Swanson is survived by wife Bonnie and their two adult children.